Seven Recently Discovered Sculptures from Cyrene, Eastern Libya

Readers of this magazine have already been introduced to some features of the University Museum’s Cyrene project, but the focus of the previous report (Expedition 17, no. 4, 1975, pp. 2-15) was rather narrowly restricted to the city’s archaic phase lasting from ca 631 to 500 B.C. However, excavation since 1969 in the Wadi Bel Gadir Sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone has brought forth considerable material evidence for the con­tinuous occupation of the site centuries after her pioneer archaic period settlers were dead, buried, and largely forgotten. Indeed, most of the Sanctuary’s more conspicuous buildings and votive dedications belong to the Hellenistic and Roman periods, meaning here from the end of the fourth century B.C. through the second century A.D.

Of this latter material none are more typical and in their own strange way more informative than the numerous sculptures that its grounds have yielded over the years. Between 1910 and 1920 our predecessors in the field reported finding twenty or more statues, while we have recovered nearly thirty pieces of similar statues as well as reliefs, all to some degree damaged by the violent earthquake that wrecked the Sanc­tuary in A.D. 262. The statue parts are either headless bodies or isolated heads from sculptures ranging in scale from about two-thirds to over life-size. So far we have not succeeded in matching up one with the other to regain a complete work. Nevertheless, these mutilated discoveries speak eloquently to the religious and public aspirations of their donors who span roughly half a millennium, and reflect a broad spectrum of artistic responses to the age-old need for sculpture.

In the spring term of 1975 graduate students in the University’s Classical Archaeology program took as subjects for research papers a cross-section sampling of sculptures from Wadi Bel Gadir found by the University Museum Expedition, together with a pair of sculptures recovered by the Libyan Department of Antiquities elsewhere in Cyrene. The results were so gratifying that it was decided to publish condensed versions of six of these papers, and it is these that form the content of this article.

An added attraction for us working in Libya over the past decade has been to observe from time to time the discoveries of interesting objects from other parts of the city, brought to light either by excavation or by accident. Unless recovered by an author­ized expedition this material automatically becomes the responsibility of the Department of Antiquities, which periodically allows the publication of such new discoveries by foreign scholars. A case in point is the two portraits of Marcus Aurelius described below by Marcia Bloom and Karen Chance. One was accidentally found in the winter of 1966 and the other excavated as part of the Department’s own project to clear one of Cyrene’s theaters. Since the Department generously permitted the University Museum Expedition to carry out conservation on both pieces during the summer of 1974 and subsequently to publish word of their dis­covery, we include them here as a way of registering our thanks.

Moreover, I have to admit that in terms of absolute quality the Marcus Aurelius por­traits are rather a cut above many of the sculptures the University Museum has ex­cavated from Wadi Bel Gadir! I speak of course of ‘artistic’ or ‘museum’ (i.e. ‘exhibi­tion’) quality, since in respect to other values (historiographical, sociological, religious etc.) the remaining pieces described below are in no way inferior. This is perhaps to be expected. Marcus Aurelius was an extremely important emperor for Cyrene. His reign climaxed a long period of slow recovery for the city from the effects of a ferocious rebellion by the province’s Jewish inhabitants in A.D. 115. There is good reason to suspect that the city’s economy benefitted directly from his imperial interventions, and it makes good historical sense that the people of Cyrene should have wished to honor their royal benefactor with especially handsome statues.

The Wadi Bel Gadir Sanctuary sculptures include portraits of two otherwise unknown young women, one aping the appearance of the powerful Ptolemaic queens that ruled during the third and second centuries B.C., the other perhaps serving a minor ceremonial role in Demeter’s cult toward the end of the fourth century. Our single male portrait of a private citizen depicts a non-Greek, native subject living in the second century A.D., perhaps a priest. The remaining pieces are more distinctively cultic: a relief portraying Demeter with her daughter, Persephone, and a strangely baroque free-standing image of Demeter, alas, missing her head. The first belongs once again to the fourth century and the latter to the first century B.C.

All vary to some degree in terms of function, size (which is surely at least a rough index of expense), state of conservation, and artistic merit. Admittedly none will ever rank as masterpieces, with the possible exception of the head of the Libyan man, which is by any standard a powerful and original portrait. All five share two things in common. First, all were carved from marble, which was not native to Libya and therefore must have counted to some extent as a luxury material, particularly if we remember that every scrap of marble had to be shipped in by sea and then hauled sixteen miles inland and up a 2000-foot high plateau to get to Cyrene. This geographic reality must lie at the root of any argument as to whether a sculpture was carved locally or imported in a nearly finished state.

And secondly all were victims of the A.D. 262 earthquake. Contemporary reports say that this great natural calamity rattled much of the eastern half of the Mediterranean, so that, in the words of the emperor Gallienus’ biographer, “many structures were swal­lowed up altogether with their inhabitants and many people died of fright. This disaster indeed was worst in the cities of Asia; but Rome too was shaken as was Libya. In many places the earth yawned open and salt water appeared in the fissures.” While Cyrene’s high elevation doubtlessly spared its citizens the final horror of sea water spurting from its soil, the effects of the quake have been dramatically attested throughout the city, specifically in its agora marketplace and in its so-called “Odeon” (the same general location as Marcia Bloom’s Marcus Aurelius head; did this also suffer from the same quake?).

In the case of Wadi Bel Gadir, shock waves diagonally traversed the upper terraces of the Sanctuary in a southeast to northwest path, as is grimly witnessed by many of the statues which fell with their tops pointing in that direction. Building blocks, scraps of mosaic, cracked column shafts and capitals lie co-mingled with the smashed statues to form a dense “earthquake stratum” that blankets the whole of the Sanctuary. The fact that we have failed to join any of the recovered torsos with heads raises the spectre of iconoclasm or the intentional mangling of pagan relics by the later Christian in­habitants, but this is a point that is still under debate. All of the Sanctuary sculptures reported on here came from the eastern half of Terraces Three and Four. Each has been damaged by the quake and whatever else followed, but each survives in sufficiently good condition to reveal to the careful investigator things of interest to us living seventeen centuries after that fateful day when they were toppled in the dirt.

A Marble Relief of Demeter and Persephone

To recognize the subject of this marble votive relief, found among the surface remains of the Demeter Sanctuary at Cyrene, is simple enough. There is no mistaking the matronly figure seated on the rounded cushion (rock?) as the Grain Mother Goddess, Demeter, nor is there any doubt that the elegant young woman cradling a torch in her left arm is her daughter, Persephone, or as she is sometimes called, the Kore. The iconographic clue of the torch, present in numerous vase depictions and in sculptural representations of these two goddesses, and the fact that the relief was uncovered in the Demeter Sanctuary. explicitly reveal their identities.

This unique find—the best preserved relief and one of the earliest dated sculptures thus far recovered from the Sanctuary—holds interest beyond its artistic merits. In fact, the sculptural execution is poor in cer­tain respects. For instance, Demeter suffers somewhat from the artist’s failure to handle successfully the transitions of perspective in her seated pose and the modelling of the neck area which appears as a smooth cylinder. The left hand of Persephone again is clumsily rendered. Moreover, it is difficult to decipher the confusion in the drapery at that point where the left hand of Kore, the right hand of Demeter, and the torch shaft come closest together. This last deficiency may not be entirely due to the sculptor’s lack of skill, but, rather, to the state of preservation of that area of the relief. Nevertheless, this is not a great work of art. Instead, its main interest and importance lie in how it can be interpreted and what it may be able to tell us about the Demeter cult and sanctuary at Cyrene.

The white marble stela measures 58.1 cm. high and 60.5 cm. wide. The figures of Demeter and Persephone are carved in high relief to a maximum depth of 3.5 cm. While the general state of preservation is, on the whole, good, there are areas which have suffered: most noticeably, the faces of the two goddesses. Also, the lower left corner of the marble block is broken off.

The goddesses are framed in the architec­tural setting of a little temple or naiskos, at the top of which there is the suggestion of a roof with eight cover tiles masked by antefix­es. An architrave rests on the square capitals of two antae which merge with the “stylobate” or floor of the noiskos.

Persephone, standing 41.5 cm. high, is dressed in a chiton (a light inner garment), fastened with buttons along the arms, and a himation (a heavier outer mantle). The path her himation takes is not totally clear because of the previously mentioned confusion near the torch shaft. However, the mantle is gathered around her waist and over the left shoulder. One end terminates in the folds falling along the goddess’ left side, while the other end, curiously, appears to be pulled by the right hand of Demeter to end up on her mother’s lap. If this analysis is correct, it becomes difficult to explain Demeter’s web­like mantle extending from her right shoulder to a point just above her right hand. Is Demeter reaching out to grasp the cloak of the Kore and, at the same time, spreading out her own mantle to the right? Or is the solution simply that the mantle of Persephone falls along her left side, partially hidden by the torch, and that Demeter is spreading her himation from her shoulder in the direction of her daughter?

The stance of the Kore is frontal, although her body sways in a classic, exaggerated 5- curve. The right knee is bent and the right leg is set out and to the side, while the hip of the weight-bearing leg is thrust to the left. A series of concentric arcs marks the stomach, and three diagonal folds delineate the thrust of the body from the left hip to the right foot. The right hand of Persephone rests on a partially damaged upright stand. Her left arm is covered by her cloak, while the hand awkwardly supports the shaft of the torch. The torch terminates in a spiralling flame and divides the relief into two almost equal halves. The head of the young goddess, still attached to the ceiling of the naiskos, is tilted left and downward. Her hair is arranged in a popular Hellenistic coiffure: the Bow-Knot style. The hair is parted in the center and the ends are swept up in a knot, separated into two rolls on top of the head. Persephone’s gaze is directed toward the seated figure of her mother.

Demeter sits in a three-quarter frontal position, turning her body toward Persephone, with her head almost full profile to the right. Her hair is badly worn, but carries a clear suggestion of spiralling locks. Her right hand is bent and extended toward the Kore. Demeter is also dressed in a chiton, here the sleeveless Doric variety, and a himation, which wraps around her back and lies across her lap, terminating beside the cushion (rock?) upon which she sits. Her left hand rests in her lap between parted knees where the folds of her chiton form a pattern of arcs. The left foot peeks out from under her garment. The graceful, youthful appearance and the more accomplished rendering of the Persephone figure are in marked contrast to the squat, slumping, more matronly figure of Demeter—an impression due to the dispro­portionately short torso and to the break­down of perspective in the transition from the knees to the waist.

For the mythological background to this representation one must turn to the earliest detailed version of the story of Demeter and Persephone in the so-called Homeric Hymn to Demeter, recorded in verse around 600 B.C. The Hymn narrates the events of the abduc­tion of the goddess, Persephone, by the lord of the underworld, Hades. Demeter, saddened by the disappearance of her daughter, wandered the earth for nine days with flaming torches in her hands, taking neither food nor drink, until she arrived at Eleusis. Demeter ordered the Eleusinians to erect a temple and an altar in her honor so that their worship might comfort her. In the temple, Demeter mourned for the Kore and cast a drought and famine over the earth, causing everything to lie hidden in the ground. She swore that the earth would never again bear fruit until she saw her daughter. Zeus then sent Hermes to the underworld to persuade Hades to allow Persephone to leave the gloom of the subterra­nean depths. Hades agreed to relinquish his hold on Persephone—but only partially. He put into the goddess’ mouth a pomegranate seed, the fruit which bound Persephone to descend annually into the underworld for four months, but which allowed her to return to earth for eight months to be with her mother. Demeter, grateful for her daughter’s return, permitted the earth to bear fruit once more, and each spring thereafter. But, with Persephone’s annual departure, the barrenness of winter enveloped the earth.

While the background of the Hymn is important to an understanding of the Cyrene relief, no one specific moment in the mythological narrative is there being il­lustrated. It is not the moment of the joyous reunion of mother and daughter as described in the Hymn (lines 434f.) or a scene of Persephone’s sad annual departure to the underworld. Rather, this scene recalls typical representations on Attic grave stelae, depict­ing the deceased with a mourning family member. In a dream-like state the living reaches out to shake hands with the dead relative. Demeter, in the Cyrene relief, sits in a similar state of reverie; her eyes meet the gaze of her beloved Persephone and she reaches out toward this vision of her daughter, perhaps even pulling on Kore’s mantle to draw her closer to her. Furthermore, the possibility should not be excluded that the spreading of Demeter’s mantle with her right hand is a direct quotation from Attic grave stelae where this gesture is an expression of mourning. However, just as Demeter is inescapably separated from her daughter in the myth for four months, she is symbolically separated from her in this composition by means of the vertical torch.

The torch, most simply, functions as an attribute by which we are able to identify Demeter and Persephone. However, its significance for their cult is more complex, as is its symbolic role in this representation. The torch divides the composition of the relief and separates the two figures. In the Hymn to Demeter it is the object which Demeter carried on her frenzied search for her lost daughter. Thus, the reference, in both cases, is to separation. The torch played a similar symbolic role in the cultic ceremonies at Eleusis, where on a certain day the mystae proceeded along the shore with lighted torches in imitation of Demeter’s search for Persephone.

However, the torch carries another sym­bolic meaning in this relief, by referring to the return of the goddess from the underworld and to the rebirth of nature in the spring. It is Demeter who carries the torch in the seventh century B.C. Homeric Hymn, yet it is Persephone who is more often seen holding it in later vase depictions and sculptural representations. It is possible that this element of the myth was forgotten, or better still, transferred, and it is to the return of the goddess and the departing winter which the light of the torch of Persephone makes reference. As scholars have pointed out, in the lesser mysteries at Agrae, near the Ilissos river in Athens, in March (the month called Anthesterion), when Persephone was sup­posed to return from the underworld to bring the new-born crops and lengthened days, a procession assembled in the evening with torches in celebration of the light and the end to the earth’s dark days. Consequently, the torch here represents iconographically two opposing notions: it is the symbol of the separation of Demeter and Persephone, on the one hand, and, on the other, it is a reference to the return of the Kore, who brings with her return the power of the sun and the promise of fertility.

The naiskos setting of this relief provides not only a means of dating the sculpture, but also, more tentatively, some possible details about the Sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone at Cyrene. The house-shrine setting is a standardized form of fourth century B.C. grave stelae and is also a common motif on fourth century non-funerary votive reliefs. Deep niches or naiskoi, providing settings for represen­tations, were not used for tomb monuments, in Attica at least, until around the middle of the fourth century B.C. Representations of naiskoi on South Italian vases coincide with that general date also. Other indications provided by the Bow-Knot coiffure, the stance and the drapery rendering of the Persephone figure, confirm that the relief dates to the late fourth or early third century B.C.

More interesting than the chronological index which the naiskos motif supplies is the interpretation of the naiskos building itself and its function at Cyrene and other sanc­tuary sites. The house-shrine setting may be a reference to an actual naiskos, several of which have been recently uncovered at Cyrene. It is a type of building no doubt associated with ritual or cultic activity which possibly necessitated the display of cult images. However, there is no evidence to support the idea that a Cyrene cult statue group of Demeter and Persephone, placed in such a setting, may have been the prototype for this relief. Instead, this particular representation of the two goddesses—the youthful, elegant, standing Kore and the seated, matronly figure of Demeter—com­plies with the standard typological depiction of Demeter and Persephone, especially in the fourth century B.C. Most of our comparative examples come from the great Attic Demeter Sanctuary at Eleusis, the site which gave its name to the festival and mysteries of the Eleusinia in honor of Demeter. It is possible that it was at this sanctuary that the type originated. Therefore, this relief stela from Cyrene, in the form of a little temple, is simply a standard sort of dedication—a stock votive gift to the sanctuary goddesses, borrowed from a mainland tradition.

How and by whom these votives were commissioned (by sanctuary officials, devoted patrons, local or foreign cities?) is yet a mystery. And where was the relief made? It is sculpted from marble, a material not found in Greek North Africa. If the marble had to be imported, was the sculptor, who is steeped in the traditional Attic iconography, also of foreign origin? Or is he, rather, a local Cyrenean? It is also not impossible that the relief was executed elsewhere and shipped to Cyrene in a finished state. Although the possibilities are intriguing, I feel it is not necessary to postulate that an Attic artist was active in Cyrene or that the completed relief 4 was commissioned from Attica, since, from the sixth century B.C. Cyrene was an important center of Greek culture, and, certainly long before the late fourth and early third centuries B.C., Cyrene was well within the mainstream of artistic developments in the Greek world. There is no reason to doubt that a Cyrenean artist of this period would have been thoroughly familar with the traditional iconography of Demeter and Persephone, as represented in this relief.

A Head of an Adolescent Girl

This head of a young girl was found in the Sanctuary of Demeter at Cyrene in the summer of 1973. The height of the piece is 22.1 cm., its thickness 10.4 cm., its width 8.4 cm. Sculpted from fine-grained white marble, the head is in fair condition. Aside from chips broken from the braid and the tip of the nose the surface is marred only by brown staining and lime encrustation, and some general weathering.

The girl stares levelly in front of her, her head tipped slightly back. The arc described by the hairline is duplicated in the line of the chin, creating an almost perfectly circular face. Under the low forehead, the deeply socketed and shadowy eyes are subtly delineated: the upper lid is clearly defined but the lower lid is merely hinted at and the pupils are not incised. The unevenly set eyebrows are only plastically indicated. The nose is wide and slightly displaced to one side. The mouth is small and pouting, with a full lower and short upper lip which form a pronounced ‘cupid’s-bow.’ The cheeks are very fleshy and soft; the chin is prominent in profile though with a softening fullness underneath.

It is difficult to decide if this head was meant to depict the features of a real person, or if it is merely a generalized rendition of an adolescent girl, perhaps 15 to 17 years old. The banal smoothness and serenity of the countenance suggest the latter, but the breadth of the face, the shape of the mouth, the shortness of the upper lip and the width of the nose, all look very individual. Some of these features, however, are characteristic of depictions of youth in general, and not unique to this piece. Others seem to be conventions of the time and can be paralleled on pieces of the same date, as will be demonstrated.

Unluckily the context in which the head was found gives no clues to its date, as the earthquake which destroyed the site in A.D. 262 effectively intermingled artifacts from the earliest to the latest days of the Sanctuary. The only attribute by which the head might be dated is its hairstyle, and unfortunately the desultory nature of the carving obscures the way in which the hair is arranged. It is parted down the middle and arranged in a braid or braids, brought forward from a roughly depicted bundle of hair at the nape of the neck and positioned far forward on the head. Only the merest edge of hair is indicated in front of the braided hair and there is no attempt to indicate individual strands of hair in this area or on the crown of the head.

Closer examination of the braid reveals that the girl’s hair, despite the break at the part, is arranged in a single braid wrapped completely around the head. This can best be determined by studying the lines of the interwoven strands of hair: they point, arrowlike, always in the same direc­tion—upwards on the one side of her head, downwards on the other. This hairstyle, though rare, does appear on a number of statues, usually of young girls as here. The dates of these for the most part cluster in the second half of the fourth century B.C. These parallels differ in details from the head of the girl from Cyrene, most notably in that in general they are more carefully carved and therefore the arrangement of the rest of the hair is clearly delineated, also in that the braids are not set as far forward as on this head; still the basic style is identical and the general effect strikingly similar.

Perhaps the closest parallel is the statue of a young girl in the Metropolitan Museum in New York which is identified by Gisella Richter as being part of an Attic tomb monument and dated by her to shortly before the anti-luxury decree of 317 B.C. Other parallels include a woman on a broken At tic grave stela of the fifth century B.C. in the National Museum of Athens and a young female divinity in the Museum of Bucharest, dated to the second half of the fourth century B.C. An unpublished statue of a young female votary in the Museum at Brauron and presumably from the Sanctuary of Artemis there, probably dates to the fourth or the beginning of the third century and has a very good depiction of the same braided hairstyle.

The dates of the comparisons cover a chronological range of about two centuries, but suggest a date of the end of the fourth century B.C. for the Cyrene head. The  depiction of the face of the girl is in accord­ance with this date. The serene expression, the smooth full cheeks, and especially the misty blurred look around the eyes, all are characteristic of this period. In some ways the head seems reminiscent of the work of Praxiteles, one of the most famous and widely imitated sculptors of the period. The Italian art historian Giovanni Becatti describes how in the statues of Praxiteles “the lower eyelid becomes thinner, giving the gaze a dreamy moist effect.” This unfocused faraway gaze can be discerned in the present head.

The features of the girl’s face which were described as ‘individualized’ can be readily paralleled by other heads of this date. It is only necessary to look at the statue of a woman from the same fourth century B.C. Attic tomb monument discussed above. Though her face is thinner and longer than that of our girl, it has the same structural relationship between eyebrows, eyes and nose, the same width of the nose, the same short upper lip, the same shape of mouth with the same shadowy dent between the mouth and determined chin. The roundness of the girl’s face is due to her youth and is found in other youthful depictions of this period. Thus the identification of this piece as a late fourth century B.C. sculpture is, according to the style of the carving and the arrangement of the hair, most plausible. It was probably intended to represent a real person and perhaps incorporates some hint of her actual features, but in the final analysis owes much more to standardized models of the time.

It is interesting to speculate on the reason or reasons for which the complete statue of the girl, of which we have only the head, would have been erected in the Sanctuary of Demeter. A good many Cyrenaican private portraits are in fact associated with temples and seem to have been dedicated there for various reasons: some are statues of priests or priestesses, others are dedications erected of local benefactors, or are votive statues. It is possible that this is simply a votive statue. It is unlikely that a girl of this age would have been a priestess, but not impossible that she occupied some lowlier position within the cult, perhaps assisting the regular priesthood in its ceremonial duties. Or she may have simply been an initiate who died at an early age.

A roughly centimeter-wide cutting behind the line of her braid indicates that the head was once encircled with a ribbon, crown or wreath of garlands. This may provide a clue to her identity. From Eleusis near Athens, the site of the most famous cult of Demeter and her Mysteries in antiquity, inscriptions and scenes depicted on vases and plaques have been recovered that indicate that the Anadesis or Crowning with Garlands was an important part of the rite of initiation into the Mysteries. In later times the garlands or wreaths became a badge of initiation. There have been found at Eleusis statuettes of boy initiates bearing on their heads wreaths of myrtle. Perhaps the head of our girl also wore a myrtle garland, possibly of bronze or some other material, supported in the cutting behind her braid. According to this inter­pretation, the presence of the statue in the Sanctuary was intended perpetually to re­mind the goddess that this girl had been initiated into her rites and therefore had earned special treatment in the Afterworld. For, as Sophocles wrote of initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries, “Thrice happy are those of mortals who, having seen those rites, depart for Hades; for to them alone is it granted to have true life there; to the rest all there is evil.”

A Ptolemaic Portrait Head

This head of a young woman, sculpted in fine-grained white marble, was found during the 1974 season of the Demeter Sanctuary excavations. Her portrait can be assigned to the Ptolemaic period in Egypt. The first Ptolemy was one of the generals of Alexander the Great and founder of the dynasty which ruled Egypt during the Hellenistic period (282-32 B.C.).

The sculpture, 21.5 cm. in height, is badly broken on the bottom front, left side, and back. The chin, the end of the nose, the left side of the face, and the back of the head are all missing. The undamaged parts exhibit careful, if somewhat unemotional, workmanship.

The young woman is portrayed with a straight nose and high, full cheeks. The modeling of the eyelids is heavy and is further emphasized by the deeply cut grooves between the lids and eyebrows. The profile view of the right side shows another facial peculiarity. The ear is placed too high on the head, being level with the eye rather than the nose, which is its more normal position. This side view also reveals a curious use of the drill behind the right ear, which may in fact never have been finished. The rest of the face is smoothly polished, but the area behind the ear has been left quite rough.

In order to date accurately and identify our head several of its characteristics can be compared to those of other portraits of the Ptolemaic period. The first of these is her hairstyle which is known as the ‘melon’ style. This was popular throughout the Hellenistic and early Roman periods, although in the latter it is generally seen only on young girls. When the ‘melon’ hairstyle first comes into vogue it is composed of short fluffy segments of hair, slightly waved. At the back of the head the hair was braided or coiled into a bun. As the back of our young woman’s head has been broken off it can only be conjectured that her hair was treated in this manner.

With lime, however, the `melon’ style develops several new traits; small ringlets or curls appear in front of the ears and across the forehead. These gradually become larger and more tightly curled with true corkscrew curls replacing the ringlets in front of the ears in the later Ptolemaic period. The hairstyle seems to gradually lose its buoyancy, becom­ing patterned and heavy with the passage of time.

Royal coin portraits perhaps best il­lustrate this development, for the style was favored by several Egyptian queens. For example, Berenike I wears the ‘melon’ style on her coin portraits. Her hair is dressed in soft waves, with small wisps of hair in front of the ears. These wisps are clearly the antecedents of the heavier, larger curls popular in the later Ptolemaic period. Berenike wears a veil on these portraits.

Arsinoe II appears posthumously on coinage minted after 270 B.C., the date of her death. Her hair is in soft, wavy segments with tiny, inconspicuous curls crowning her forehead. She is normally depicted wearing a veil and a crown.

Berenike II looks very much like both Berenike I and Arsinoe II on her coin portraits. Her ‘melon’ hairstyle was elaborated both with and without the small curls on the forehead. Portraits of her as a youthful queen generally do not have these curls. Berenike II wore a diadem and a veil, but never a crown as Arsinoe did.

After Berenike’s death in 221 B.C. the ‘melon’ hairstyle appears only sporadically on Ptolemaic coins. Cleopatra II and Cleopatra VII (the last queen of Egypt) both wore the style but by this time it had become extremely stylized, with long, tightly curled locks of hair framing the face.

The facial characteristics of the young woman under discussion are not very helpful in making an identification, for this portrait belongs to a period of classical revival, when individualizing traits tend to be minimized in order to present a more idealistically beautiful appearance. This emphasis on beauty over reality is particularly characteristic of the early Hellenistic period and is best illustrated by the portraits of Arsinoe II and Berenike II. The only features of our subject which can he said to be individualizing rather than idealizing are the relatively high cheekbones and, perhaps, the abnormally placed ears.

There exist, however, two sculpted por­traits which closely resemble ours. The first has been tentatively identified as a portrait of Berenike II, perhaps executed posthumous­ly. It was found in the Sanctuary of Alexan­drian Gods in Cyrene and is now in the Cyrene Museum. Its hair is more stylized in the manner of late Ptolemaic portraits, but the facial features are remarkably similar to ours. A difference which must be noted when comparing the portraits is the absence of any emphasis on the cheekbones of the Berenike head.

The second portrait is the head in the British Museum, again tentatively identified as Cleopatra VII. This woman has a good deal more individuality expressed in her face than either of the others. But the profile compares well with the Demeter Sanctuary portrait, especially in the treatment of the eye. The `melon’ hairstyle is more developed and less buoyant and the arch of the nose from the line of the forehead is, however, more distinct.

Both the sculpted portraits and the coins emphasize the connection of our head with dynastic portraiture. It is evident that the Demeter Sanctuary head either represents one of the Egyptian queens or is the portrait of a local woman executed in the dynastic style.

Several of the queens of Egypt are historically connected with Cyrene. Berenike I was a lady-in-waiting in the court of Eurydice, the wife of Ptolemy I. She was a widow with three children, one of whom, named Magas, became king of Cyrenaica. Berenike became Ptolemy’s third wife (polygamy was not uncommon at that time) and bore him a son who later ruled Egypt as Ptolemy II. He took the throne in 285 B.C. She also bore him a daughter, Arsinoe II, who eventually married her brother and ruled as queen.

Berenike H was the daughter of Magas, king of Cyrenaica, and was born in 273 B.C. On his deathbed, Magas betrothed Berenike, his only child, to Ptolemy III who would soon succeed to the throne of Egypt. At Magas’ death in 248 B.C., however, his widow Apama rejected this alliance with Egypt by bringing Demetrius the Fair from Macedon to wed Berenike. Berenike was only fourteen and it is not known whether the marriage actually took place. Apparently Apama was unable to resist the fair Demetrius and he became her lover, much to the young queen Berenike’s dissatisfaction. So she had him murdered. She then married Ptolemy III and Cyrenaica was added to the Egyptian empire.

The strong connections of all three queens with the early Hellenistic kingdom of Cyrenaica make it probable that a portrait of any of them could be found in Cyrene. However, the similarity between all of their features and the condition of our head make an exact identification almost impossible. And the second possibility, that our head is only executed in the style of dynastic por­traits, cannot be overlooked. On the basis of the hairstyle, however, the portrait compares most closely with those of the early Hellenistic period, that is, the middle of the third century B.C.

A Headless Demeter

The excavations of the Demeter Sanc­tuary at Cyrene continue to add to our corpus of both Greek and Roman sculpture. The 1969 season uncovered a marble female statue that appears to be a previously unknown variation of a standard type. The piece is a less than life-size peplophoros statue, now headless, measuring 118 cm. tall. Both arms are broken just below the shoulder and are missing. From what remains, it is probable that the right arm extended towards the ground, close to but separate from the body, while the left arm stretched out perpendicular to the body.

The torso is completely covered by a Doric peplos (hence the term peplophoros), a heavy woolen garment that reveals little of the body’s form. The weight of the figure rests on the right leg, while the left leg is bent at the knee and the foot is drawn back. Pinned at the shoulders, the peplos falls over the breasts and divides into a series of uneven, naturalistic folds that gently curve to form the kolpos or pouch. The belt is entirely concealed, and the kolpos forms an arc-shaped line across the waist and down both thighs. From the waist, the peplos falls, in vertical folds that cover the right leg and foot. The folds do not fall in uninterrupted vertical lines but show variations in the channels and in their depth. On the left leg, the heavy material is smooth over the thigh, but shallow, curved folds can be seen as the garment falls from the knee. The tip of the upraised left foot is visible and the peplos bunches up slightly here, as it does on the right side at ground level. As on the upper torso, the garment is portrayed in a realistic manner.

In addition to a peplos, the figure is wearing a mantle. It hangs over the left shoulder and upper arm, then circles around the back, reaching the right thigh and knee. From here it swirls across the legs, arching above the knee of the flexed left leg, which appears to support the drapery and hold it in place. Then the mantle falls from the knee to the ground, just touching the left foot. In contrast to the realistic portrayal of the peplos, the mantle is rather fanciful and unrealistic.

Based on present knowledge, the com­bination of the peplos with such a swirling mantle is unusual, and in analyzing the piece it would perhaps be best to consider the two elements separately. The peplophoros statue is a popular type in Greek sculpture, begin­ning in the fifth century B.C. and continuing into the Roman period. In most instances the peplophoroi are only unidentified females, but many have been identified as various divinities, personifications, and assorted heroines; Athena, Fortuna, Eirene, and Nike are all represented; Basilianna, Sterope, and the Erechtheum caryatids also wear the Doric peplos.

Considering the find spot of the Cyrene statue—a sanctuary of Demeter—it is par­ticularly noteworthy that the goddess herself is often shown draped in a peplos. The identification of the peplophoros Demeter is based on two fifth century B.C. reliefs. The well-known Eleusinian relief of Demeter, Persephone and Triptolemos (see page 19), now in the National Museum at Athens, depicts a profile view of Demeter. Her peplos breaks into the standard folds and the kolpos falls in an arc-shape around her waist; a short mantle hangs over her shoulders and appears to fall to her waist in both the front and back. Her right hand is extended toward Trip­tolemos, while her left is extended to hold the sceptre, the symbol of her sovereignty.

The second relief, from Rhamnous in north Attica but now in the Munich Glyp to thek, shows a frontal view of Demeter and Kore. The mother goddess is leaning on her right leg and her left leg is slightly bent. Over her peplos, she wears a mantle that is visible at both shoulders and hangs down her back below knee level. Both arms are held close to the body, the right clutching the mantle, while the left hand cradles the sceptre in her arm.

From these two reliefs, further iden­tifications of Demeter can be made. Indeed, the peplophoros goddess is represented in other reliefs as well as by life-size statues and by statuettes, in both Greek originals and Roman copies. Free-standing examples are found in collections in Cambridge, Florence, Paris, Venice, and elsewhere, including Cyrene itself where no less than six were recovered before World War II. The colossal Demeter statue from the Capitoline in Rome provides a good illustration of the type with respect to dress and stance. Its restoration with sceptre in the left hand is probably correct.

In comparing the various representations of Demeter, it is evident they share a number of similarities with the present example. The stance (right leg straight and supporting the weight of the body, left leg bent) and the position of the arms (right arm held down and close to the body, left arm extended as if to hold a sceptre), all find numerous parallels. The rendering of the peplos is consistent and most peploi have the arc-shaped kolpos. However, on most representations of Demeter, the mantle is visible at the shoulders and from there falls down the back.

Yet there are exceptions. Another votive relief from Eleusis of the late fourth century B.C. depicts Demeter dressed in a peplos and mantle, again with Persephone and Trip­tolemos, but here the mantle crosses the upper torso and hangs down from the left shoulder. A Demeter peplophoros statue of the early fourth century B.C., now in Venice, reverses the stance and position of the arms. A more noticeable difference is the use of the mantle which is wrapped over the head; it then falls from the shoulders with a section of it crossing the upper torso from the right shoulder to the left side. On none of these examples, however, is the mantle treated as on the Cyrene piece.

In fact, no other peplophoros statues appear to wear a mantle comparable to the Cyrene figure. If we concentrate on the swirling mantle by itself, a number of 3 parallels can he found on representations of Aphrodite, with the site of Cyrene producing hree examples of the type. One such statue depicts a semi-nude Aphrodite whose mantle curves around her back and across the front of her legs; the mantle bunches up above her eft knee and from there falls to the ground. This representation is paralleled in a relief sculpture from Cyrene, in which Aphrodite is shown in high relief leaning on a rectangular pillar to her left. Her clothing consists of a thin, almost transparent, garment underneath a heavy mantle, which is draped over her head, curves around her extended right hand now broken) and winds across her legs. Again the mantle bunches up on her left leg, curving over the raised thigh, and from there tangs to the ground. On both representations, he mantle is unrealistically supported by the slight bend of the left leg.

This representation of the mantle is not restricted to Aphrodite figures. A similar treatment is found on a less than life-size statue of a young girl, now in Potsdam, where :he mantle is combined with a chiton, rather than the Doric peplos.

This unrealistic portrayal of the mantle was clearly an accepted and popular motif in Greek  and Roman sculpture, as was the peplophoros figure. However, the two styles were seldom combined. The mantle is part of he standard dress for the peplophoros statue. In most instances, it is hardly visible from the ‘rant, only seen at the shoulders and hanging down the sides. When it is visible, the mantle s supported naturally as in the case of the Demeter statues on which the mantle swirls across the upper torso and is gathered around he goddess’ arm. When represented as on our Cyrene statue, it is usually combined with the semi-nude Aphrodite who wears only the mantle or the mantle combined with thin transparent clothing; or the mantle is combined with a chiton, as seen on the Potsdam statue.

The combination found on the Cyrene statue is unusual and represents the use of two standard, but separate, motifs. The eclectic: nature of the piece would argue for a date no earlier than the first century B.C. The statue appears to be a provincial copy that was influenced by a variety of Greek originals. The peplos itself resembles Greek work of the fourth century B.C. By this time the garment had lost the transparency that was characteristic of fifth century work and had become completely realistic. The folds no longer fall in regular lines but are varied, as they would be in real life. They respond to the body, but reveal little of it. The Cyrene peplos shows these traits, but the garment is almost too heavy, too dense—a characteristic of late Hellenistic work. The swirling mantle is characteristic of Greek sculpture from the fifth century on, when the garment has a decorative, windblown effect. The Cyrene mantle, however, has a weight and thickness that make its arrangement even more ar­tificial.

Its eclecticism makes identification dif­ficult. The swirling mantle provides little help—certainly no one would argue that the piece represents Aphrodite. Yet the other features—the peplos, the stance, and the extended left arm—are all characteristic of the popular Demeter type. These traits, as well as the statue’s provenience, argue favor­ably for its identification as the goddess Demeter.

Why the sculptor chose to add the swirling mantle to the peplophoros Demeter is uncertain—perhaps he was trying to estab­lish a new Demeter type. More likely, his work represents a provincial misunderstand­ing of the conventional type. Although he was active at a time when sculptors were in­fluenced by and employed a variety of sculptural styles, his awkward combination of peplos and mantle represented a marked departure from the traditional use of such standard motifs and one that failed to gain popularity. This unusual portrayal of Demeter, perhaps unknown in antiquity out­side the Cyrene sanctuary and previously unknown to students of ancient sculpture, may conceivably be unique.

Head of a Libyan

In 1973 the portrait head of a young, bearded male, life size and done in white marble, was unearthed at the east end of Ter­race Four of the Demeter Sanctuary. Its preservation is quite good, although the nose and most of the left ear are missing and the eyes, lids and left eyebrow are somewhat chipped. It is broken at the neck but the re­mains of a dowel hole in the neck suggest that it was once part of a full-sized statue.

The head presents a rather striking portrait. The slightly bushy hair and, curly beard outline the surface of the face proper and contrast with the taut, sharply defined facial features. The hair is composed of tightly compacted curls which rise strongly from the line of the forehead, appearing rather like a short Afro haircut. However, the hair behind this bushy pile of curls is left in a roughly chiselled condition. The beard is composed of smaller, less well-defined curls, punctuated in seven places by small drill holes. Its growth is weak by the ears and non­existent on the chin. The mustache has been lightly chiselled. The features of the face are modelled in a restrained, somewhat simplify­ing way. The details are sharply delineated particularly around the eyes, where the lines of the eyelids, the eyebrows and the outer corners of the eyes are crisply represented. The eyes are almond-shaped with fleshy overfolds evident at the outer corners. The brow is rather prominent. The cheekbones are high and projecting, while the chin is narrow and rounded and also quite prominent. The mouth is small but the lips are full and slightly parted with the upper lip being somewhat pendent. The ears are small and not carefully detailed.

The head is clearly not that of a Greek or Roman. Rather, what we see is one of the rare portraits of a native Libyan which have come down to us. This is evident when we compare this head with a bronze head in the British Museum found by the mid-nineteenth century English collectors, Smith and Porcher (for whom see expedition 5, no. 3, 1963, pp. 28ff.) from the Apollo Temple at Cyrene and with a plaster head in the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria, also said to have come from Cyrenaica. The rather long face with high, protruding cheekbones, the small mouth with full lips, the almond-shaped eyes, the curly hair and the beard which is noticeably weak on the chin, the upper lip and near the ears, are all features which recur on these other heads of Libyans. The heavy overfolds near the outer corners of the eyes are a feature most noticeable on the bronze head in London. Unlike many other portrait heads from Cyrene which show a mixing of Libyan and Greek facial features, our head appears to be purely Libyan in type.

A date for this piece of sculpture may be conjectured particularly from the way in which the hair and beard are rendered. The style of the hair, in bushy curls, seems to be a local characteristic of Cyrene in the second century A.D., found especially in a number of the funerary busts. This style, however, shows considerable influence from Egypt where it can be seen in the funerary portrait masks and paintings of the Fayyum, also dating to the second century. The beard, which shows very limited use of the drill in defining the curls, seems to be best paralleled in the Antonine period, i.e. the mid-second century A.D., for example, in one of the portrait heads of Emperor Marcus Aurelius found at Cyrene. Incised eyes, which are a common feature of Antonine sculpture, are not found on our head. However, the lack of incision on the eyes is found quite often in Cyrenaican sculpture of this period.

Who then was this Libyan whose portrait statue was placed in the Demeter Sanctuary of Cyrene? Unfortunately, our knowledge about the native Libyan population in and around Cyrene is limited. We know that the Greeks took land away from the nomadic Libyans in order to establish farms for themselves. This was doubtless one cause of the frequent wars which took place between Greeks and Libyans in Cyrenaica. We also know that intermarriage between the Greek settlers and Libyan women was common from the earliest period of Cyrene’s history. The resulting racial intermixture must have been considerable, although the Greek element must have remained dominant. This is in­teresting in light of the rather pure Libyan features evident in this head, dating to a period 750 years after the founding of Cyrene. Furthermore, some inscriptions found in Cyrenaica have given us a few names of Libyans, but there are none which can be linked to our young man.

The best ancient source for our knowledge of the Libyans around Cyrene is Herodotus. Writing in the mid-fifth century B.C., he says that, “the Asbystae (a tribe of the Libyans) adjoin the Gilligamae upon the west. They inhabit the regions above Cyrene, but do not reach to the coast, which belongs to the Cyreneans. Four-horse chariots are in more common use among them than among any other Libyans. In most of their customs they ape the manners of the Cyreneans.” (Her. IV, 170, after Rawlinson.) Herodotus also tells us that none of the Libyan tribes would eat cow’s flesh or breed swine, following the custom of the Egyptians. In particular, the women of Cyrene, says Herodotus, thought it wrong to eat cow’s flesh, in honor of the Egyptian goddess Isis whom they worshipped (IV, 186). Furthermore, the historian tells us that the Libyans are the healthiest of all peoples known to him (IV. 187). The reason for placing a statue of this young Libyan in the Demeter Sanctuary was probably to honor him as a benefactor of the sanctuary, or it may have been a votive gift by the man to the goddess. To find a Libyan honoring a Greek goddess is not surprising in view of Herodotus’ statement about the Asbystae imitating the Greeks in most of their customs. However, we may still wonder about the social status and wealth of this man which allowed him to make such a gift. Whether he was from a prominent family in the city of Cyrene or from a neighboring area, whether he was a merchant or government official or what his position was, is simply a matter of speculation. We may only hope that more evidence concerning this problem is one day found.

This portrait head, however, is signifi­cant in giving us one further, important source for reconstructing the racial type of Libyans in antiquity.

Two Portraits of Marcus Aurelius

In this paper we shall discuss two sculptures—a head and a full-length statue of the emperor Marcus Aurelius found at Cyrene. Both are of fine-grained white mar­ble. The head comes from the 1962-1964 excavation of the so-called Odeum by the Libyan Department of Antiquities. the statue was accidentally discovered near the Gym­nasium/Caesareum complex during the winter of 1966.

The height of the head from the Odeum is 23 cm., the maximum width 26 cm. The hair and beard were obscured by a heavy lime incrustation; manual removal of this layer revealed the surface in an excellent state of preservation but with some staining on the right side of the face. The subject is a man into his full maturity, but not yet deeply marked by middle age. The level gaze, the firm set of the mouth, and the fine facial tone indicate an individual of thoughtful character, perhaps more sober than dynamic.

The back and top of the head are much less finished than the full-face and profile views, with the long curving locks of hair barely indicated. This suggests that the piece was intended for a niche rather than for a 360° view. The very small remaining portion of the neck shows that the head was turned slightly to the left. This does not tell whether it was part of a portrait bust or of a full-figure statue; no body was found with which it might be associated.

Comparisons with other imperial por­traits suggest beyond question that the piece dates from the Antonine period, A.D. 138­192. The hair and beard styles are completely in accord with what we know for statuary, gems and coins, and for the painted portraits of Antonine date, particularly from Roman Egypt.

The total height of the togate statue with plinth is 204.5 cm.—somewhat larger than life size. The head had been broken off but was found at the same location as the body and was rejoined to it. The nose had been broken, leaving only the small outer area of the left nostril intact; the base area between the two nostrils appears to have been sawed off. The left hand and wrist are missing, but otherwise the body of the figure is intact.

The head has a full, well-kept beard and mustache, both carefully arranged and parted in the center. The hair is arranged in thick, tight curls with linear detailing and has a heavy wig-like appearance. On the top of the head are only a few flattened curls.

The statue stands with the left foot forward and bearing the weight. The right foot is turned slightly outward, resting on the ball. A cylindrical scroll-box is set beside the left foot. The arms—the right free of the drapery and the left extended from the elbow—are in the standard pose of a magistrate, whether imperial or local.

The drapery of the toga is very heavy with complex, involved folds which tend to emphasize the frontality of the body. This style is quite common and provides no clue to the date of the sculpture. The back is very flat and only partially modelled.

The somber, introspective quality of the subject is reminiscent of the Hellenistic philosopher portraits, and is well suited to Marcus Aurelius, the “Philosopher Emperor.” The features do not exactly conform to the official likenesses of the emperor popular in Rome; it seems likely that this piece is the work of a provincial school and thus some leeway may be granted, owing to the problems of the transmission of the formal imperial portrait throughout the empire, and to the various styles of the provincial schools. Unfortunately, the missing nose makes numismatic evidence of little value since coin portraits were always in profile (coins were the easiest method of transmitting the im­perial likeness).

Our identification of these two sculptures as portraits of Marcus Aurelius is further supported by comparison with other known provincial portraits. Another head from Cyrene and now in the museum there represents a local type based on a “metropolitan model,” marked by carelessly executed hair. A bust in the British Museum, No. 1464, found at Cyrene in the mid-nineteenth century by the English travellers, Smith and Porcher, is a striking parallel to our head. Another portrait close to this British Museum head is the Marcus Aurelius from Capua, now Naples Museo Nazionale 150820. In all three we have the oval face characteristic of the Philosopher Emperor, although the Capua face is a bit more elongated than either the British Museum example or ours. The drillwork and undercut­ting of the hair in the three pieces create a rich pattern of highlights and shadows. We are inclined to think that a single common prototype stands behind all three heads, although not originating in Cyrene itself.

Upon a closer look at the head and statue under discussion, some differences begin to emerge. The hair of the togatus is crudely finished in the manner of the local workshop, while the locks of the isolated head are more carefully done. There seems to be a difference in the basic shape of the face; the Odeum head displays a fine oval face with a mouth neither full nor thin, and resting in natural curves, while the togatus has a more elongated countenance, with a fuller mouth displaying more tension. The eye region of the noseless sculpture is given a greater emphasis than the corresponding feature of the other, where beautiful facial modelling and warm symmetry are the primary characteristics. While it may not be safe to make a broad generalization, it seems that the Odeum head, with its balance and lack of tension, and the frontality of its probable original pose, as deduced from the traces of the neck, is a rather classicizing work in the tradition of Roman antiquarian interest, while the other is tending toward the mannered expression of inner life that leads to later Roman and Early Christian art.

What do we know, or can we surmise, about the place of manufacture of these two pieces? The fact that they were found at Cyrene does not necessarily mean that they were made there, although that is a possibili­ty. Certainly they should be associated with the continuing tradition of the Hellenistic East; the head in particular lacks any dis­tinguishable traits to associate it with Rome. Aphrodisias is probably a contender for its place of origin, as that was a major center of sculpture in what we believe to be the tradition of the eastern Mediterranean. Another possibility is Alexandria: full-length statues of Marcus Aurelius are rare, yet two statues comparable to our togate figure were found there.

An important consideration in this study is the means of transmission of the standard likeness of the emperor throughout the empire. The importance of coin images as conveyors of imperial characteristics has already been mentioned. The most obvious means for dissemination would be busts or statues of the emperor and his family com­missioned by provincial cities for execution by artists in the capital city. Originals from Rome would in all likelihood serve as models for numerous provincial imitations. It has also been suggested that sculptures could have been partially worked at the larger provincial centers and then sent out to be finished by local craftsmen. This theory would explain how the hair of our togate statue can be somewhat crude while its facial treatment is so fine. Alternatively, a highly skilled local artist may have painstakingly copied an imported sculpture to capture the true facial features of the emperor, and then treated the hair in his own accustomed style. The hair technique indicates that a Cyrenean sculptor must have worked on at least some portion of the statue.

Finally, for what purpose were such imperial portraits made? The find-spot of the head in the Odeum does not give us any information about its original setting. Its present fine condition, with no indication that it was ever subjected to intense heat, suggests that it was not directly associated with the Odeum at the time that structure met its final destruction by fire. All that we can say is that it was probably a straight-forward imperial dedication. Portrait heads and full-length statues normally adorned both public and private buildings in the time of the Roman Empire, especially in the East where there was a Hellenistic tradition of emperor worship.

The find-spot of the togatus close to the Gymnasium/Caesareum complex unfor­tunately tells us nothing about the cir­cumstances of its original setting, owing to the accidental manner in which it was discovered and subsequently removed from the earth.

Admittedly, there are differences between these two sculptures, but nevertheless we are ultimately left with the undeniably great similarities of the pair. We have two portraits of a single Roman emperor, whose image has been circulated here to the thoroughly Hellenized capital of the Libyan Pentapolis. And in them we have, therefore, a neat visual illustration of the process by which the imperial ‘image-making’ propagan­dists disseminated their products throughout the civilized world in behalf of their royal masters.

Cite This Article

Schenk, Linny, Bald, Irene F., Bloom, Marcia, Chance, Karen, Schaus, Gerald P., Tutweiler, Susan, White, Donald and MacDonald, Brian R.. "Seven Recently Discovered Sculptures from Cyrene, Eastern Libya." Expedition Magazine 18, no. 2 (January, 1976): -. Accessed June 17, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/seven-recently-discovered-sculptures-from-cyrene-eastern-libya/


This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

Report problems and issues to digitalmedia@pennmuseum.org.